By Candace Chemtob, B.S. and M.S. in Human Nutrition
Improving your performance on the squash court is hard work. You have to give it your all. But why stop short of reaching your peak performance by failing to fuel your engine (body) adequately? There seems to be a disconnect in the mind of most athletes between what they eat (or drink) and their performance on the court. The old adage is true—“you are what you eat”—and there is a direct link between what/when you eat or drink and athletic performance. My goal is to convince you that this is true and to get you thinking about nutrition strategies to optimize your performance.
The topic of this first article is proper hydration. I have chosen hydration because you can get “a lot of bang for your buck”— improving your hydration regimen can make a big impact on your game without too much effort. Our bodies are 50 to 75% water, depending on body composition, and muscle tissue is higher in water content than fat. Therefore, well-conditioned, lean athletes will be at the higher end of this scale.
Fluid balance is a complex and precise system that maintains your total body fluids within a very narrow range. In fact, at rest our bodies are kept within +/- 0.2 % of total body water. So for example, a 150 pound person will have their total body fluids maintained within 0.3 pounds (or 5 oz). Seemingly small deviations in total body water can impair performance on the squash court.
Of course, you sweat loads when playing squash. Sweating is linked to energy expenditure (how many calories you burn), and squash burns more calories than just about any other sport. Fluid losses during a squash match could reach 1.5 liters per hour. If you are in a tournament and play more than one match, this amount of fluid loss can become significant.
A 1% to 2% loss of body weight during exercise can lead to a decrease in performance. As stated in Nature, “a loss of body mass of 1–2%…clearly impairs performance capacity.” For example, in a 150 pound athlete, a 1 to 2% loss of body weight is equal to 1.5 to 3.0 pounds. This amount of weight loss during a squash match is common for many squash players. A study of runners showed that a 2% decrease in hydration led to a 6 to 7% decrease in maximum speed. Did you get that? A decrease in running speeds of 6 to 7 %! There is no doubt that in a lightening quick sport, like squash, a decrease of this magnitude in your speed is going to negatively impact your game (e.g., if you could normally cover 25’ in a given amount of time, but hydration deficits caused you to lose 7% of your speed, you’d come up nearly two feet short).
So what is your strategy to avoid this? Drink when you are thirsty? Wrong! You will not even feel thirsty until 3% total weight is lost, and it’s too late by then. To be properly hydrated, you need to follow a regimen. Here is an example:
- 2 to 4 hours before squash, drink 16oz
- 15 to 20 minutes before squash, 8-16oz
- During squash, 15 to 20 oz, cool fluid every 15 to 20 minutes is a general recommendation. However, it is much better to know your individual fluid needs. To calculate your individual needs:
- Weigh yourself before exercise
- Record the amount of fluid drank during exercise. If exercising more than one hour, these fluids should contain carbohydrates (30 to 60g).
- Add together: Weight loss during exercise plus the fluid consumed=fluids needed during exercise.
- Do this several times and you will know what your own fluid needs are during a match.
- To rehydrate after exercise: Take pre-exercise weight and subtract post exercise weight. For every pound lost, drink 3 cups of fluid. Do not drink plain water. It is counterproductive. Plain water will “dilute” your blood causing your kidneys to get rid of the “excess” waste. (Note: It is not necessary to drink “sports beverages” to rehydrate. As an alternative, you can add 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp salt to each 32 ounces of water/ other beverages, or drink milk. If you choose plain water, be sure to eat while drinking, as this will allow you to rehydrate due to the electrolytes contained in foods. Many sports drinks contain artificial dyes and high fructose corn syrup, so “preparing” your own sports drink is a healthy alternative).
Next time you get on the court, think about proper hydration. Taking the time to determine your individual fluid needs will help improve your game!